The greatest danger is within

In Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert, Gene E. Veith offers this commentary on George Herbert’s poem “Sin (I)”:

Parents, schoolmasters, ministers “deliver us to laws,” but the elaborate structures, both social and psychological, that guard one from sin, the external “fences” that “begirt us round,” are blown away, not from outside as expected, but from inside the fortress, by a single sin. The danger is not from without but from from within. The greatest safeguards, the severest threats, or the most generous promises of reward cannot prevent a fallen soul from sinning. When this is realized, when the locus of sin is recognized not as being from without, but from within one’ own “bosom,” then the solution may be recognized.

Here is the poem:

Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round!
      Parents first season us; then schoolmasters
      Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow-dogging sin,
      Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
      Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
      The sound of glory ringing in our ears,
      Without, our shame, within, our consciences,
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears.
      Yet all these fences and their whole array
      One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.
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